“Practice becomes firmly grounded when it has been cultivated for a long time, without interruption, and with earnest devotion.” -I.14, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Last time I wrote about “Keep Yoga Weird.” Now for the next step, making yoga your own!
Some of you have been coming to yoga classes for years, for which I thank you so much! Some of you have been coming to class for a shorter time, for which I thank you so much! People coming to class, the regulars and the “irregulars,” make it so that I get to share my yoga, and again, I’m thankful for that, AND I am always a huge supporter of you making yoga your own, instead of just “borrowing” MY yoga. For this reason, almost every class includes 10 minutes of self-led time since you know best what your body/being is needing in the moment, so the practice that I guide, I hope, leads to you being more in tune with and responsive to that inner call.
What does it mean to make yoga your own? It means taking what you’ve learned in yoga class home and practicing self-led on your own. The analogy that I think works best here is, harking back to an earlier technological time, you would go to the video store to rent a movie. If you liked it, you might rent it a couple or a few times, or keep it longer than overnight. If you REALLY liked it, you would buy it, and then you owned it; it was your own and you could use it whenever and for however long you wanted to. Just so, if you come to class, you are, in a sense, “borrowing” my yoga (aided by the energy from everyone else in the room). If you want to “buy it” and make it your own, again, you take what you have learned and you apply it, just you, your mat and the Higher Power. You get to do what YOU need/want on a given day, which you might do in class, too. You then come to class to get re-inspired, to reconnect, to keep learning or to take the learning deeper, and to fine-tune your practice.
For me, from the very beginning, yoga was something I did on my own, and classes and teachers were inspiration and helped me take the practice deeper. As a result, I consider that yoga self-led is the only real yoga. Yoga in class is valuable, but just for learning and not actually for “doing yoga.” I’ve had yoga teacher trainees of mine argue with me about that, only later to come to understand and agree with me, so if you disagree with that statement and don’t have a home practice of some duration and regularity, I’ll encourage you to just agree to disagree and keep the disagreement in mind for future reference. Different people have different reasons for coming to class in the first place, but most people who develop their own practice end up liking it more than class. There are occasional exceptions to that, but for the most part, yoga self-led is where yoga really happens and goes WAY deeper! You learn even more about yourself and ultimately tap into your own Source of inspiration and power and insight and Truth.
If you’ve NEVER practiced on your own, I’ll gently encourage you to try it once. Having a place to practice is key, but it can be as simple as wherever you unroll your mat, though having a dedicated space can be very helpful. We have a “yoga room” at home. Scheduling a time to do it and a given duration is a good place to start a practice. I think that 15 minutes is a good minimum since most people can make that amount of time commitment and even if you decide that that’s enough and you don’t want to do more on that day, you will still feel some positive effect from the practice. Having a predetermined sequence can be helpful, and just about any yoga asana book will have suggestions, and you can no doubt find them online. Or if you can, just go with what you remember, what poses seem helpful for your body, and do some poses that you like and some that you don’t.
If that initial experiment works out OK, then commit yourself (to yourself, at least) to doing yoga some number of times in a week for a week, or daily. If that goes well enough, then make it for a month, and then maybe another month, or a year. If you miss one of your committed times, no problem. Just keep going.
Sometimes having a group energy is helpful, and if you want the safety of having an actual teacher present as you begin your self-led practice, conveniently and coincidentally (I’ve been planning this particular article for a while, even before what comes next) Tracey Oliveto, one of my Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy colleagues is going to be start a self-led practice time with her available for questions and assists starting in January, with 2 more introductory sessions on Monday and Wednesday December 7 and 9. Though she comes from the Ashtanga tradition, these sessions are open to all styles of yoga.
If you get truly inspired and start to see the effects of regular, eventually daily, practice, you won’t want to stop and will find it easy to get to the mat, even though of course, it’s not all “Love and Light,” not always easy, and sometimes it’s a challenge to just get on the mat. The difference, however, between having a practice (of yoga) and just doing what you want when you want (which could just be self-indulgence), is, paraphrasing Robert Gass (from Chanting: Discovering Spirit in Sound), “We do not wait for inspiration to strike-we [do yoga] because it’s our practice.” We will, happily, realize a different result if we practice because it’s our practice rather than if we simply wait for inspiration. That difference can/will be, some day, Self-Realization or God-Realization or whatever you call it. And that’s SERIOUSLY taking your Yoga to the next level!